The E-510 looks very different to the E-500. It looks a lot more like a traditional SLR, with a wide body that protrudes both sides of the lens mount. It’s not a huge camera by any means, in fact measuring 136 x 91.5 x 56 mm and weighing 460g body-only, it is considerably smaller and lighter than any of its immediate competitors, one of the big benefits of the made-for-digital Four Thirds system. Nonetheless it is a full-size SLR with a nice big handgrip, and it feels bigger than it is. The shape of the camera is quite functional, with plenty of straight lines and creased edges, but it is very secure and comfortable to hold. Build quality is superb, even better than the far-from-shabby E-500. The body is plastic, but over a metal chassis, and it feels very strong and robust, and capable of taking the bumps and knocks that it will receive in professional use. Although it lacks the environmental sealing of the Pentax K10D or more expensive models like the Nikon D200, the card and battery hatches are very tight fitting and dust ingress isn’t likely to be a major problem. As for moisture, I used the camera on a rainy day (are there any other kind?) at an outdoor event, and it didn’t appear to mind a few splashes.
The control layout is a little daunting at first glance, with a large 11-position main mode dial and no fewer than seventeen buttons dotted around its surface, but everything is clearly labelled and logically laid out, and despite its complexity it is surprisingly intuitive, at least for anyone who’s handled a digital SLR or high-end superzoom before. ISO, white balance, AF mode, AF spot position, metering mode, image stabilisation mode, drive mode and AE/AF lock all have their own buttons, but as well as this the E-510 has the same on-screen quick menu system as the E-400 and E-500, providing a visual interface for all these functions as well. One nice feature is the Fn button, which by default operates as an one-touch manual white balance button, but can also be set to other options, including DOF preview, live preview, test picture or a user-defined picture mode.
Even the huge array of external controls doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of just how much user control this camera offers. Virtually everything is either adjustable or optional. There are three different levels of noise filtering, or you can turn it off altogether. The compression rates and image size of the lower quality settings can be adjusted. The three pre-set picture modes can be tailored to your specifications of contrast, sharpness and saturation, and the monochrome mode has built-in red or green filtering and tone adjustment. Even the timer on the anti-shock mirror-up delay can be adjusted, and there’s much more. There aren’t many cameras on the market with such a complete menu and control system, and it is this more than anything sets that camera firmly apart from entry-level models such as the Canon EOS 400D or Nikon D40X.